Nathan Myhrvold has a high-tech kitchen lab, but the device he calls magical is a basic pressure cooker.
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"I outdid myself," says Nathan Myhrvold, the author of Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking, his exhaustive (and exhaustively publicized) 2,438-page, six-volume, $625 cookbook. That's quite a statement coming from Microsoft's former chief technology officer, who researched cosmology with Stephen Hawking and writes scholarly paleontology articles almost as a hobby.
Smart Ways to Use a Pressure Cooker
Myhrvold and his staff spent more than three years exploring flavor in his state-of-the-art culinary lab. And while they found ingenious applications for rotor-stator homogenizers and other scientific equipment, the device they turned to most often was a basic pressure cooker. "It can do magical things," says Myhrvold. His team relied on it to rapidly make rich stocks and found that its ultra-high temperatures are capable of transforming familiar ingredients in unexpected ways. "We make a risotto with pressure-cooked pine nuts, and they have a beautiful popping texture," says co-author Maxime Bilet. F&W put that pressure cooker recipe and two others to the test to see if Modernist Cuisine delivers more than intellectual heft. And it does.
© Antonis Achilleos
Inside the Kitchen Lab
"I've been interested in cooking my whole life," says Myhrvold, who attended La Varenne cooking school in France. (Another pursuit: trying to eradicate malaria.)© The Cooking Lab, LLC
Myhrvold's culinary lab (part of his larger research facility in Seattle) is staffed by 16 full-time employees and stocked with everything from pots and pans to medical gear like autoclaves. An adjacent machine shop can fabricate all kinds of equipment. © The Cooking Lab, LLC
A Chef's Take: "The most interesting dish was the rare beef stewit was so obvious, I wanted to smack my head and say, 'Why didn't I think of that!'" remarked David Chang of NYC's Momofuku empire after attending a dinner to preview Modernist Cuisine. "The book has minor breakthroughs like that, but mostly it documents the past 25 years in Western gastronomy, which is super-important. It will be in every chef's officeno question."
Striking photos, video and more from Nathan Myhrvold's Modernist Cuisine.